Friday, June 06, 2008

Writing Tips: Spice It Up!

Have you ever read a story that was full of dialogue, but left you feeling like you were floating in white space? Or a book that was so full of description you couldn't remember what was going on? Have you ever wished the action would slow down long enough to let you get to know the characters?

Stories are best when their many ingredients--dialogue, description, action, etc--are held in a delicate balance. You don't want a story that's too airy, too heavy, or too bland. The goal is just the right touch of spice.

For example, let's look at a conversation from my fantasy novel Worlds Unseen. The main character, Maggie, has just discovered that her traveling companion has the unusual ability to hear things no one else can.

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"What else do you hear?" Maggie asked. "Besides dangerous voices in the dark."

"I hear the grass grow," Nicolas said, "and I hear the stars singing."

"They sing?" Maggie asked.

"Yes," Nicolas said. "I hear other things, too ... sometimes I can hear what Bear is saying."

"Bear talks."

"Well, not exactly talks," Nicolas said. "He feels things, and thinks things, and sometimes I hear what he means."

"Does he speak the language of the Empire?" Maggie asked.

"No, of course not. He just feels things, and sometimes I understand them. That doesn’t make much sense to you, does it?"

"Have you always been able to understand him?" Maggie asked.

"No," he told her. "When I was a child I would listen to rabbits and squirrels and birds, and it was hard to understand them, too. But I kept listening, and trying to understand, and one day I did. I still don’t understand everything."

"What else can you hear?" she asked.

"When babies cry," Nicolas said, "I know what they want before their own mothers do. Sometimes I can hear a baby talking while it's still in its mother’s womb."

"What do they say?" Maggie asked.

"It’s hard to understand them," Nicolas said. "But not so hard as with the animals. Mostly they dream about the world out here. And they wonder why so many of the voices they hear are angry and worried. They dream, and they wonder, and then they go back to sleep. And when they wake up they wonder all the same things over again."

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That's not bad, but it's sparse. We don't get any sense of where these characters are, or of what they're feeling. By adding a few spices to the dialogue, I can bring the scene more fully to life. In this scene, I chose to use facial expressions and thoughts to help my readers understand what these characters were feeling. I added a bit of background history, a campfire and some interesting shadows, and a tiny bit of body language to bring the scene to life. Here's the result:

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Nicolas appeared in the firelight and collapsed into a cross-legged heap. The firelight glinted on the gold in his ear and traced strange shadows on his face.

Maggie rolled over and lifted herself onto her elbows so she could look across the fire at her half-wild friend.

"What else do you hear?" Maggie asked. "Besides dangerous voices in the dark."

"I hear the grass grow," Nicolas said slowly, "and I hear the stars singing."

"They sing?" Maggie asked.

Nicolas nodded. "Yes," he said. "I hear other things, too ... sometimes I can hear what Bear is saying."

Maggie looked up at the hulking form just beyond the glow of the campfire. "Bear talks," she said flatly.

"Well, not exactly talks," Nicolas said. "He feels things, and thinks things, and sometimes I hear what he means."

"Does he speak the language of the Empire?" Maggie asked, feeling ridiculous but unable to stop herself from asking.

"No, of course not," Nicolas said. "He just feels things, and sometimes I understand them." Nicolas laughed a little nervously. "That doesn’t make much sense to you, does it?"

Maggie ignored the question and asked another of her own. "Have you always been able to understand him?"

"No," he told her. "When I was a child I would listen to rabbits and squirrels and birds, and it was hard to understand them, too. But I kept listening, and trying to understand, and one day I did. I still don’t understand everything."

Maggie felt herself drawn to the strange young man across from her. It was fascinating, what he was saying, perhaps absurd. Yet she believed him.

"What else can you hear?" she asked, leaning forward with her chin resting in her hand.

Nicolas’s eyes met hers. How many people had he ever spoken to like this? Who, in all his life, would ever have believed him? Even the Gypsies thought he was mad when he spoke of hearing, although they were not so quick to dismiss it the way others did. They wondered sometimes, if madness was not a gift.

"When babies cry," Nicolas said, "I know what they want before their own mothers do. Sometimes I can hear a baby talking while it's still in its mother’s womb."

"What do they say?" Maggie asked, a smile of wonder beginning to tug at her own face.

"It's hard to understand them," Nicolas said. "But not so hard as with the animals. Mostly they dream about the world out here. And they wonder why so many of the voices they hear are angry and worried. They dream, and they wonder, and then they go back to sleep. And when they wake up they wonder all the same things over again."

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As you can see, a good mix of elements can bring characters, a conversation, or an entire scene to life. I hope you've enjoyed this writing tip! If you'd like to read more of Worlds Unseen, be sure to check out the free Ebook Edition at www.littledozen.com/worlds.html .

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1 Comments:

Blogger Elisabeth said...

I like your observations on writing a lot - I'm an aspiring writer myself.

10:28 PM  

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